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Child CustodyDivorce: A Cause of Learning Disabilities?

May 16, 2008

A study published in Ambulatory Pediatrics warns that young children, who are separated from their parents, are at increased risk for learning difficulties and may require special education.

Separation of parents and children is one of the unfortunate consequences of divorce. It is disturbing to learn that divorce may be a cause of learning disabilities.

The study enrolled 1,619 children between ages 4 and 6 who were entering Rochester City School District kindergarten classrooms in the fall of 2003. Parents or caregivers were asked if their child had ever been away from a parent for more than a month, and if so, if the separation occurred once, twice, or more than three times. These adults also completed the Parent’s Appraisal of Children’s Experiences (PACE) survey to measure their children’s developmental skills by various observable behaviors (e.g., if the child can cut with scissors; if he or she can tie their shoes”) The results were then analyzed to produce four 4-point scales, each measuring different dimensions of healthy. development, including: how well a child learns new tasks; how well he or she uses language to express ideas; how literate he or she is (e.g., can he or she read his own written name”); and the quality of his or her speech (e.g., do other people often have difficulty understanding the child”)Children who have been separated at any point scored significantly worse both on the 4-point scales measuring their ability to learn new tasks and their pre-literacy skills. Of note, their expressive language and speech scores fared better– they were comparable to those of their non-separated peers

There are practical explanations for the study’s findings. For instance, in the case of a single parent household, the custodial parent may be working and raising several children. This parent simply may not have the time to spend reading to the children or exposing them to new things. It is believed that early childhood exposure to new ideas and experiences fosters children’s learning skills.

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